Saturday, April 26, 2008
by Joe Porrazzo
(iUniverse / 0-595-44215-7 / August 2007 / 254 pages / $16.95)
This little book by first-time novelist Joe Porrazzo starts off slowly and gains momentum as the story progresses. Although the blurb and hype of Solemnly Swear may accidentally lead you to believe this is a military courtroom story akin to the Meathead Movie Masterpiece, A Few Good Men, only a little of the plot happens in a civilian courtroom. The bulk of the storyline is mostly a soliloquy of nightmares and flashbacks experienced by a retired air force colonel who has inadvertently witnessed a mob hit. Alex Porter is appreciating his early retirement in the company of his new Mercedes SL, with occasional visits with his daughter who is away at college. Driving home one night on a lonely road, he becomes the state's key witness when he sees the local Mafia don murder his wife. Most of the story takes place in the nine-month timeframe between the murder and the trial, with ample threats and suspense supplied free of charge by the mob to Colonel Porter. All he has to say is that he is not certain of what he thought he saw that night.
Alex sits down into the seat of his SL one day to discover through a cassette that has been placed into the car's player that a bomb has been placed underneath the driver's seat. The bomb will explode if Alex lifts his weight off the seat or if anyone is seen approaching the car. Alex does not know for certain if his car is being followed visually or with a GPS tracking device or both. Most of the plot involves Alex's precarious operations as he drives around contemplating his predicament. More characters are slowly absorbed into the story through flashbacks as Alex tries to learn as much as possible about his remote captors and their ultimate plan for him.
Mr. Porrazzo has definitely written what he knows. Solemnly Swear is all about characters and places the author knows well. The campus ROTC program plays a significant role in Alex Porter's life, just as it has done in the author's real life, and Mr. Porrazzo actually is a retired USAF officer. The editing and proofreading of Solemnly Swear are up in the stratosphere with the best. I had to give my own Campus Comma Cops the night off out of sheer boredom. I have only two complaints about the book, and both are minor. The lesser of the two concerns the cover. The style and design are fine, except for the dark text of the back cover blurb, which is quite difficult to read. My second complaint is that the book is too short. Although I love the taut editing, Joe Porrazzo's compositional style could easily have retained my interest through twice the page count. Solemnly Swear is a very technically competent book, certainly professional enough to sit with its peers on the B&N shelf in Tucson, as displayed on the author's website.
I know what you're thinking at this point: Come on, Mr. Nitpicky Book Critic, drop the other shoe. Surprise! The second shoe boots Solemnly Swear into the five-star bracket! Up until the final quarter, the book is a competent four-star runner, but as Alex Porter begins to defog his brain and take the offensive against his mobile captors, the author picks up the pace and heads for the goal line. Don't you dare pick up this book and begin reading in the middle, particularly toward the end! You will seriously regret spoiling the story for yourself. When Joe Porrazzo whips out the plot twists from Alex Porter's brain, Solemnly Swear kicks some serious butt.
See Also: The B&N Review
The Author's Website